Hihou – Melbourne, City – Wednesday 16 April 2014 – Dinner

Hihou dog

Hihou dog

I need to admit that the first time I looked for Hihou, I couldn’t find it! This time I was prepared and, more importantly, booked in for a quick meal before Wil Anderson’s comedy festival show.

I need to admit that I came for the dog (and a beer… or two!) A big fan of Izakaya Den, and with a lot of press of its own, I was expecting reasonably big things. Earlier in the day I had not thought twice about going to a mediocre Japanese take-away style restaurant for lunch as I was expecting Hihou to be the polar opposite of your standard Japanese. It most certainly is!

Three of us shared a kingfish ceviche, and some duck crepes. In addition, we had a Hihou dog all of our own. The kingfish ceviche was zingy and fresh as it should be. The duck crepes were beautifully presented with the ingredients separated – pieces of lightly cooked duck nice and pink, light crepes, spring onion and plum sauce. Absolutely delicious. Gladly, the Hihou dog didn’t get overshadowed. Brioche hotdog roll, with delicious kim chi topped pork sausage – elevated flavours – but perfect with the Orion draught beer. It was a touch on the small side but I’ve always gone for quality, even if it costs $12!

You need to watch out for some of the prices for wine by the glass because the price to quality ratio drops very quickly. Service is efficient, but it is really a bar so attentiveness is not restaurant quality, and I think it is best for a quick bite and beer. It’s attractive in a classic sense, but also for its point of difference. I’m not hooked, but I’ll be back for a dog… or two.

Hihou on Urbanspoon

The Book Kitchen – Surry Hills, Sydney – Saturday 12 April 2014 – Breakfast

I fondly remember a cafe in Surry Hills that seemed ahead of its time. What I forget every time I go to Sydney is that it doesn’t open on weekends which strikes me as quite strange. There are so many cafes in Surry Hills that we quickly looked up another one and detoured to The Book Kitchen, which is a little further east.

The Book Kitchen looks quite quaint and welcoming. It was a busy Saturday morning but we only needed to wait for a little while before a table for two opened up. The menu is reasonably basic but still has appeal.

Catherine decided on the bircher muesli and ordered it with fresh fruits. Even though we were on our way to the races, I chanced the fact that my suit might wear my bacon and egg roll and stuck with that option. My bacon and egg roll included a delicious slightly spicy chutney and did the job well. Unfortunately, Catherine’s bircher had been prepared with both apple and cream, which made it a really thick and off putting consistency which was close to inedible. It was more like putty – something had gone wrong.

The positive in all of this was the fact one of the waitstaff enquired about Catherine’s meal which she had hardly touched and offered to bring something else. In a bit of a hurry by this stage, Catherine chose to just grab some toast with jam which was good. We appreciated the staff had done a nice job to rectify the issue, but I certainly wouldn’t be ordering bircher there any time soon.

The important thing in running a restaurant is realising that not everything goes right all of the time. When you have these situations, providing a decent solution really helps all involved. Especially, the diner enjoying their bacon and egg roll!

The coffee here was pretty good, the bacon and egg roll was good, and the staff were friendly, and handled themselves well. While I would love for Single Origin to be open on the weekends, this is not a bad option a little down the road.

The Book Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sailors Thai Canteen – The Rocks, Sydney – Friday 11 April 2014 – Dinner

Gang Panang Moo

Gang Panang Moo

To my mind, Sailors Thai Canteen, is the fuss-free equivalent of Longrain in nearby Surry Hills. Years’ ago Longrain had established a market in Sydney, hungry for its food, and even hungrier for its cocktails. Not too long after, Sailors Thai came through and swept up a crowd hungry for good quality Thai at reasonable prices.

Sailors Thai Canteen has a large communal table, rich flavoursome dishes served quick, and efficient nonchalant waitstaff. In its position in The Rocks in the northern part of the Sydney CBD around Circular Quay it could take advantage and charge through the roof. While it sticks to the same script year after year, the script doesn’t include taking advantage.

Even though it was raining, we were surprised to get a couple of seats on the communal table straight away after 7pm on a Friday. There for only a short time, we saw tables turnover quickly and few lingered long after eating. Everyone around us looked like they were having fun and we eagerly awaited our food.

Hoi Jor

Hoi Jor

Our starter was tofu wrapped and fried balls of chicken and prawn (hoi jor) that came out looking like a dim sim. Nothing to write home about, but we were hungry and they were tasty! We shared a pad thai and a pork curry for main. The pad thai was better than average. The prawns in particular were juicy and fresh. The pork curry (Gang Panang Moo) had nice additions of thinly sliced lime leaves and red chilli, along with some well cooked potato in a rich coconut and spice sauce. We were happy with what we had chosen and happy to skip dessert (nothing jumped out) in favour of turkish delight Easter eggs back at the hotel!

It’s not dirt cheap, but considering where you are dining, to get away for $50 each for plenty of food and a couple of drinks it is more than reasonable. While the communal table contributes to the turnover of diners, the other option is to order and take back to the hotel. Either way, Sailors Thai Canteen serves up nice traditional Thai quickly and will be doing so for many more years to come.

Sailors Thai on Urbanspoon

Yellow – Potts Point – Sunday 13 April 2014 – Breakfast

From reasonable experience, Potts Point, just around the corner from Sydney’s infamous King’s Cross is a combination of hipsters and really hungover waitstaff on a Sunday morning! It was not looking good at Yellow with the initial welcome, but we decided to chance our arm given we made the walk through the train station, and even more tentative walk through King’s Cross mid-morning on a Sunday.

We were pleasantly surprised. We didn’t have to wait for a table, the food was fantastic, and waitstaff were friendly.

Scrambled eggs, bacon and tomatoes

Scrambled eggs, bacon and tomatoes

My scrambled eggs, bursting with cherry tomatoes throughout, and with home smoked bacon on the side that was thick cut and rich, was absolutely delicious and the sour dough was a feature, as opposed to a filler.

The coffee was good but the wait for the first was even longer for the second, to the point where I thought it had been forgotten and rather than wait any longer we organised the bill, only to find it still on there! The hangover had taken effect!

I would be extremely close to going back to Yellow purely for the food. I can understand when a cafe is raw, but in this case it was a bit flat. Perhaps we came after a particularly big night; perhaps we didn’t!

Yellow on Urbanspoon

Viet Hoa – Northbridge – Friday 28 March 2014 – Dinner

I live minutes from Victoria Street in Melbourne. My taste for Vietnamese developed from several visits to Viet Hoa in the inner north of Perth. It has had crowds for years and the recipe for its success has thankfully never changed, even though the number of similar restaurants in the area has multiplied several times in line with the growing food and eating out culture of a booming city.

There is nothing exceptional about the broth of each pho, just a solid straightforward mildly salty and flavoursome backbone for your choice of raw beef, tripe, prawn, pork, chicken, dumplings, wantons, or a combination thereof. The ingredients used are again solid. Freshness is guaranteed by the crowds that even on a Monday night can be lining up for short periods.

This is classic get-in-get-out dining, with the opportunity to bring-your-own a favourable addition. Don’t rely on a local bottle shop though. I had to run three blocks to the closest one in Northbridge! The various phos are the go-to dish with the many, many other dishes to pad the menu for those more into “Australian” Chinese rather than more classical Vietnamese. The starters are okay but not necessary given the speed you are served your main.

Sincere thanks for a restaurant that is a friendly introduction to the great food that goes hand in hand with Vietnamese culture. I’m sure it will still be the same in a decade.

Viet Hoa Northbridge on Urbanspoon

Blake Street Cafe – North Perth – Sunday 30 March 2014 – Breakfast

Poached egg

Poached egg

Wow. I try to be positive but having tried to go to Mrs S in Maylands over Christmas and discovering it was closed for several weeks was frustrating. So imagine on my next trip to Perth going there on a normal Sunday morning and finding a sign saying basically that lack of staff means it is closed. Under the impression that this is one of the better new breakfast places I was quite miffed!

On the flip side we had been lucky enough to get breakfast over Christmas, after 11.30am too, at Blake Street Cafe, and knew we had a back-up plan. Sure enough we got a table for the three of us and were ready to eat!

Here’s a quick digression.  I have always loved breakfast. It is not something I adopted when I got to Melbourne. I already searched far and wide for great coffee and amazing food in the morning (or around midday) whilst I grew up in Perth, and fine tuned my expectations on holidays to places like New York before I discovered Melbourne is my world-wide favourite town for the first meal of the day. I worked on the Oriel graveyard shift and breakfast shift for a few years as a kitchen-hand in Subiaco and saw it all. At the time it was the leading café and did terrific quality breakfasts. I discovered brioche there. But Perth is a source of frustration, amusement, wonder and delight in no particular order and that’s why I started to stick to the tried and tested. Even my previous favourite, Beaufort St Merchant, changed so remarkably that if I lived in Perth I could barely afford to eat there once a week at my previous late breakfast slot. End of digression.

The reason I mentioned all of this is because I had a back-up plan and I remained excited and naïve. I had been here before for an amazing breakfast and I was so impressed I followed up with a relatively expensive dinner that was even better.

Today I wanted to be positive and have a great breakfast. No. 4 Blake St wanted me to have a great start too. They put excellent, well some excellent, quality ingredients on the plate, that should have been nicely cooked and looked good. It was anything but good though. This is a place that does exquisite dinners and has access to high quality produce. The eggs were really overdone and despite this being both breakfast and lunch I couldn’t eat the second one. I got through the sausage which was also overcooked. Everything else was passable but I think I was sour by this point.

Criticising is not something I would like to get in the habit of doing in my reviews. I maintain that this is a terrific restaurant for dinner. I just struggle to come to grips with such a mediocre breakfast.

Blake St Café on Urbanspoon

Jamie’s Italian – Perth City – Sunday 30 March 2014 – Dinner

Linguine with prawns

Linguine with prawns

I’m a regular traveller to Perth. I was born in Perth and most of my family, and many of my friends, still live there. Gladly I also found a job that takes me back about once a month. There is a phenomenon in Perth which I’m sure has a name, but let’s call it “we-need-to-fill-up-new-places-for-six-months”. Post overcrowding for six months the novelty wears off and the honeymoon is over. It is a fickle place to own a restaurant. When I was younger and starting to love food and wine the [as close as possible to] institutional restaurants were Alto’s (gone), Star Anise (gone), Jackson’s (thankfully still around), and gladly we were starting to see through some of the places on the water that served up mediocrity. The phenomenon is, from afar, beginning to fade. There are tens of exciting newcomers, but more and more the “new places” are finding a comfortable place in being “old”. Greenhouse and Andaluz are a couple of examples of places that have now “been around”. I’m not sure about all of the new places, many of which are recreations or copies of Eastern States originals, but Jamie’s Italian is definitely good. It seems to me that it is purposely looking to provide reasonably priced Italian to the masses while setting some trends in a local sense that are more thematic in Melbourne and Sydney. Unfortunately, the no (limited in this case) bookings policy is one of those themes. I think, sorry, I know, that anyone who complains about having to wait for a table, should not be coming here without a booking. If they, despite their affliction for waiting, need to try Jamie’s, they need to get here ridiculous early. I go to breakfast at 1pm regularly. For Jamie’s you need to take that extreme to lunch and make it dinner!

Linguine with atlantic salmon

Linguine with Atlantic salmon

If you are prepared to wait, you do eventually get in. I have been about 6 months ago so I knew the deal. We put our names down at 6pm and the wait was “2 hours”, no they corrected “2.5 hours”. We ate somewhere else that Saturday night and got the call on the way home at 8.30pm (that 3 hour time zone difference is pretty horrific so we were eating early!) Then on the following Sunday night we were ready. We’d watched the Eagles smash Melbourne and felt like a couple of drinks so we were prepared to wait. We got there at 5pm. We got in at 6.30pm. If you know about the wait, you also know that the reason you go to Jamie’s is for freshly made pasta. Our group obliged after sharing some completely fine breads and grissini. My linguine with prawns (“garlicky Spencer Gulf per menu”), tomatoes, chilli, rocket and fennel was good. The pasta was perfect and that’s what I came for. The prawns were a bonus, much juicier than your average Italian joint. The other components are tried and tested as a combination. Catherine’s special was linguine with Atlantic salmon. It was fresher and punchier than my classic combination. I had a little menu envy. For dessert we shared a rich chocolate brownie with amaretto ice-cream and caramelised popcorn. It was a nice way to finish and was definitely best shared. As we finished we saw some friends who had unfortunately not ordered pasta at all and were left a bit disappointed. I’m not reviewing on their behalf, but it reiterated that you need to order smartly when you have a place that is crazily busy with a diverse menu. Our waitperson had solid capabilities without any flair, which is fine. My impression looking around was that you need to have the energy of a uni student to keep up with the demands of the restaurant. Keep service expectations low in other words. I’ve used Jamie’s as the opening of my Perth reviews for my latest trip on purpose. There are a lot of great elements both at Jamie’s and in Perth, and they are ripe to be built on.

Jamie’s Italian Post Script

Vongole tagliolini

Vongole tagliolini

Mum wanted to go to Jamie’s for Mother’s Day and who was I to say no! We again enjoyed our pastas, this time I had a vongole tagliolini. Again, I just love how the pastas are homemade, the ingredients fresh, and simplicity is the focus. We also tried to the crab and avocado bruschetta to start and that was nice. I think the deal Jamie’s gets on seafood must be amazing because it is always high quality.

IMG_1877

Crab and avocado bruschetta

Jamie's Italian on Urbanspoon